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Wilkinson, Arthur George (1911–1940)

by James Prior

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Arthur George Wilkinson (1911-1940), speedway motor cyclist, was born on 27 August 1911 at Millthorpe, New South Wales, third son of native-born parents John Wilkinson, butcher, and his wife Jessie May, née Toshack. While at South Bathurst Public School, Arthur saved the money to buy his first bicycle by working after school as a paper-boy. On leaving school he was employed as a butcher-boy and purchased his first motor cycle, a Douglas, for £3 10s. Within twelve months he was setting speed records on the dirt track at Bathurst sportsground. After he won the unofficial New South Wales championship, competing against Lionel van Praag, a public fund was established to send him to Britain.

From 1929 'Bluey' Wilkinson raced with the West Ham club in East London. A favourite with spectators because of his daring riding, he was dubbed 'the red-headed miracle'. Following a racing collision in which he found his handlebar bent inward, he introduced curved handlebars to motor cycle speedways. He also ceased the practice of thrusting out or trailing the leg while cornering. Selected to ride for Australia against England in 1930, he failed to score, but in later Tests amassed a total of 359 points, more than any other rider.

On 12 October 1936 Wilkinson married Muriel Vick in the register office, Westminster, London; they were to remain childless. Through the 1930s he attracted huge crowds. Regarded as the favourite for the 1937 world championship, he was injured in a fall a week before the event and forced to withdraw. He visited New South Wales that year, won the Australian championship and achieved an unbroken sequence of thirty-seven wins in Sydney.

Back in Britain, in 1938 Wilkinson won the Scottish championship and set new records at many tracks. In September he won the world championship at Wembley stadium. The result was popular: he had suffered an injury the previous night and rode with his shoulder in plaster. He came out of retirement in 1939 to give a Royal command performance, then turned to management and promotion of speedway racing, but the sport was virtually suspended during World War II.

The Wilkinsons were keen travellers and thrice went to the United States of America. In March 1940 they returned to Sydney and lived at Bellevue Hill. Riding his motor cycle at Rose Bay on 27 July, Wilkinson was involved in a collision with a lorry, fractured his skull and died almost instantly; Muriel, who was riding pillion, was severely injured, but survived. He was buried in Bathurst cemetery with Anglican rites.

Quiet, modest, reserved, and seemingly incapable of fear, Wilkinson had enjoyed the support and affection of speedway spectators for his breathtaking performances. He tutored and guided many riders who later achieved prominence. At Bathurst, Wilkinson Place commemorates his name, while the lights at the sportsground were erected in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • Speedway World (Great Britain), 7 Sept 1938
  • Parade, Oct 1964
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May, 3 Sept, 2, 26 Dec 1938, 20 Jan 1939, 4 Mar, 29 July, 1 Aug, 24 Sept 1940
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 28 Sept 1963, 12 Oct 1987
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

James Prior, 'Wilkinson, Arthur George (1911–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilkinson-arthur-george-9100/text16047, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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